Danica Patrick is not going to win the Daytona 500. That is just too much to ask of a driver getting ready to begin her first full-time year in the Sprint series.
With the Generation 6 cars forcing action back to pack racing, making drafting more difficult and increasing the level of unpredictability, experience is going to be more important than ever.
However, she doesn't have to win to have a successful run in the Great American Race.
If Patrick can keep herself with the leaders and finish the race, it should be viewed as a huge success and a statement that she is ready to be a big factor all year.
Here is what she needs to do to find success:
It is going to be far harder to pass with the Gen-6 cars. Drivers are not going to be able to pair up and shoot past others.
Drivers are going to have to be patient, and patience is not always their greatest asset. There was a ton of single-file racing in the Duels, and passing was extremely difficult.
The temptation will be to slingshot past the driver ahead, but these cars handle so poorly in the draft that this is going to lead to wrecks or drivers getting hung out to dry and falling back in the field.
You can get a good feel for how this race is going to go and the dangers it presents in this video of a big crash in the Sprint Unlimited:
Danica will have to trust her spotter and pick the right spot to make passes—which leads us to our next subject.
Pick Her Spots
So, the key to success is simple: Be patient and aggressive.
While the two ideas are polar opposite, there is a time and a place for each. When Danica does have a chance of making a pass, she can't hesitate, and she has to be assertive.
While the pack racing has plenty of opportunities for disaster, it also allows drivers the opportunity to make big gains in a short span.
Of course, this is racing we are talking about, and some elements are beyond any driver's control. There is little doubt that there is going to be at least one big wreck, and getting caught up in one of those is largely beyond the driver's control.
Then, there is luck with the car. She can't blow an engine or a tire or struggle with a ride that just isn't responding as it should.
Danica is in a great position to make a big statement in this race, and with the right game plan and a little luck, she will do just that.
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